The Case for College Readiness

By Abner Oakes

ISA's Director of Outreach

College AheadPreparing students to succeed in college is essential for our students, for our economy and for our society. President Obama has made this a national mandate — the cornerstone not only of his education policy, but of his economic policy as well.

The statistics bear out this approach:
• College graduates require less financial social welfare support in the form of subsidies and health care than those without a secondary degree — and as the number of college graduates rises, crime decreases.
• An estimated 85% of current jobs and almost 90% of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs require some postsecondary education.1
• College graduates earn, on average, twice as much as those with just a high school degree, and accordingly, contribute more to the national tax base.2
• If the number of high school dropouts in each age cohort was cut in half, the government would reap $35 billion annually via extra tax revenues or reduced costs of public health, of crime and justice, and in welfare payments.3

And, most compellingly, providing our children with access to an excellent education unleashes their aspirations, creativity and innovation, thus immeasurably improving our society.


The benefits are clear, the path can be challenging. Many high schools struggle to graduate students. Our national high school graduation rate is only 80%. For African American and Latino students it is close to 56%.

And when students do graduate, they are not necessarily prepared for the demands of college:4
• Only about half of the students who enroll in college are prepared for college-level work
• Remediation rates in colleges have been estimated to be more than 60% at two-year institutions and approximately 40% at four-year institutions.
• Less than 40% of the young workforce (ages 25 to 34) has a postsecondary degree

“Improving the transition from high school to college is crucial, given the convergence of demographic changes throughout the nation, current educational inequalities, student aspirations and a global economy that requires higher levels of knowledge than ever before.”

ISA’s approach is to collaborate with schools to design a customized plan that aligns college readiness with school and district goals and resources. The initiative is implemented in partnership with the school and district. This partnership not only builds college ready capacity and sustainability, it produces results.

As David Conley points out, what high schools teach and what states demand on their exit exams is poorly aligned with the knowledge and skill set colleges require for students to succeed. ISA can help high schools be more closely aligned with what colleges are demanding and what the common core standards are demanding and still be in compliance with their state requirements.

For the last ten years, ISA has worked with districts and schools to transform persistently low-performing high schools and create new ones that are designed to prepare students for college. A recent study by the Academy for Educational Development (AED) finds that ISA’s impact is “large and positive” on student achievement outcomes including graduation and dropout rates, attendance, credit accumulation and, importantly, students’ success in college. Using data from the National Student Clearinghouse, AED found that 94% of ISA students in four-year programs persisted into their third semester — a key indicator of college graduation. The national rate — for the entire high school population, not just our challenging demographic — is 76%.

1 Alliance for Excellent Education,
2  Levin, Henry A., The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education
3 Ibid.
4 Statistics and quotation from Improving College Readiness and Success for All Students, An Issue Paper for the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, Michael W. Kirst and Andrea Venezia